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tv   Shoot To Kill The Ohio Animal Massacre  MSNBC  October 11, 2015 4:00pm-5:01pm PDT

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you'll find more information about this story at msnbc.com. that's all for now. i'm lester holt. thanks for joining us. 911? >> is this a hoax or is it real? >> no, it's true. and if you see anything, stay indoors. >> remain indoors. don't try to approach him or detain him. >> on the 18th of october, 2011, one american town became engulfed in a bizarre and tragic event. >> i'm in desperate need here of some help. these things are completely crazy, half domesticated, half wild. >> stay inside. >> this is the story of what happened that night in zanesville, ohio, when one man's obsession with exotic and dangerous animals left his community with dozens and dozens
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of deadly carnivores on the loose. >> we are not talking about your normal, everyday house cat. these are 300-pound bengal tigers. >> lions and tigers and bears roaming the area. >> african lions, one is wounded roaming the property. >> it is complete chaos out there. we have officers going in heavily armed and now it's all snow balled into hell. >> the local sheriff's department found itself at the center of a new story that sparked international outrage. >> stop shooting animals! you guys are outrageous! >> right now we're shooting to kill. >> tigers and bears and wolves and cheetahs and leopards, and you name it, and it's loose.
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i can still remember the day i got a call to go to a property and the call was a camel was eating a lady's tree. and when i got the call, i was somewhat skeptical that it was really going to be a camel eating a tree. when i got to the location, this older gentleman stopped in a pickup truck and yelled at me, he said, hey, deputy, are you looking for the owner of that camel? and i said, yes.
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and he said, terry thompson. and if you go there, be careful, because he has lions and bears. >> terry thompson lived on his farm in rural ohio, along with 56 exotic pets. >> well, the lions would be roaring probably when they wanted to eat. you'd hear them every day, maybe in the morning and maybe at night. >> basically in the summertime and we're outside, you could hear them really roaring. >> in his hometown, terry was known as a man who walked on the wild side. >> terry used to own a harley-davidson dealership in the zanesville area, but was also licensed to deal in class-3 weapons. class-3 weapons are automatic weapons, so that was the only
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harley-davidson dealer you could get a harley-davidson and submachine gun at the same time. >> terry was known as an absolute thrill seeking daredevil. >> i remember him flying his airplane inappropriately, too low, too fast. >> of course, he flew his plane under the veteran's bridge in zanesville, which there's not much clearance between the river and the bridge. >> zanesville, ohio, is not the sort of place you normally associate with bizarre events. >> appalachian, ohio, is what we call zanesville. small population, hometown people, everyone knows everyone for the most part. >> but on october 18, 2011, zanesville, ohio, briefly became one of the most dangerous places in america.
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it all started around 5:00 p.m., when terry's next door neighbor noticed his horse, red, acting strangely. >> red was eating grasses like he is now, and all of a sudden he took off. red took off up over the hill. well, he wasn't running from me. i didn't know what he was running to or from, so i went through the gate, and i looked, and he went all the way up to the corner where the fence comes together, and when i got to about right in here, i could see more of the horses, and they were going around and around in a circle. and horses don't do that unless something's going on, something's not right. i could see something was in the circle of the horses, i saw a black figure. >> what was the black figure?
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>> the black figure was a bear. so i said i'm going to get red and take him to the barn. and we got about right here and i felt something's not right. i feel like something's looking at me. we got about right here in this area. i know because this small tree is right here, it's a locust tree. the lion was sitting right there. right up against the fence. a male african lion, huge. he could have hopped over to the fence and been on us in a snap of a finger. my first thought was, dial 911. then i said, well, i want my mom to know what's going on. my mother was in our living room of our house sitting watching tv, and i called her. >> he said, we got big problems. he says, i know there's a bear loose, it's up there with the horses and there's a full grown lion. and so he told me to call somebody.
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>> 911. >> yeah, we live next to terry thompson and there's a bear and a lion out. >> there's a bear and a lion out? >> yes, right across, behind us. >> and it's behind your house? >> pardon me? >> is it behind your house? is it behind your house? >> yes, and they are chasing terry's horses. >> it was pretty common to get called out at terry thompson's. >> deputies had been called out to deal with terry's animals over 20 times in the previous seven years. terry's collection of animals began with horses, which he trained with his wife, marian. >> terry and marian were always very happy together. she was always willing to do whatever he was into at the
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moment and she'd be into it, too. he said we decided not to have kids, we're going to have animals. he said i don't want to bring any kids into this world. >> over the years, terry and mary's choice of pets became more adventurous and more dangerous. in the state of ohio, most creatures, great and small, could be bought legally. >> i met marian and terry at an exotic animal auction. i believe terry bought a lion, a baby lion, and that's when i first met them, because they asked me a lot of questions about how to raise it and what to do. >> i said what in the hell do you want that thing for, man? i said it's going to eat your horses. that's the first thing i told him.
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>> ohio was one of seven states in america with few, if any, restrictions on the ownership of exotic pets. terry thompson was allowed to collect as many dangerous animals as he wanted. >> one lion, the next thing you know, there's five, then there was ten. i don't know where he found them all. i have no idea. >> as you can see in this bizarre online photograph, terry would sometimes ride with his creatures uncaged. >> i know his whole personality drew him to those things, because he had to prove he had more guts than anybody else. who else had large cats and bears? who else raised them in their house? nobody that i know of, but he had more guts. now i got one more, one more, got more than you, got more than you. >> i was always concerned that we had a public safety issue.
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terry and marian had so many animals that were dangerous, lions, tigers, bears, i told terry and marian more than once that i really thought something bad was going to happen out there. why do so many people choose aleve? it's the brand more doctors recommend for minor arthritis pain. plus, just two aleve can last all day. you'd need 6 tylenol arthritis to do that.
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>> the first thing i thought of was, okay, this is bad, but it's manageable. >> hello, please leave a message after the tone. >> hi, terry, this is the sheriff's office. we are trying to get ahold of you, there's a bear and a lion running loose. give us a call. >> we'll find terry, get the animals back in, i'll finish my call, along with my shift, but wasn't to be. >> the county sheriff's department had endured a long and often fractious relationship with terry thompson. >> i sought to investigate terry's animals at least four separate occasions. >> in 2010, detective welker led a team of officers and animal welfare experts to inspect the thompson cages.
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>> how are they doing? well, we have straw in all their stalls -- we've got straw in all their stalls, we water them every day and feed them every day, that's all we can do. what do you want me to do? just give me a chance to get a shirt on. >> thanks. >> terry was not always happy to see us. >> are we about to take your picture with my camera? >> terry was a vietnam veteran. >> now don't worry about it showing up on the computer, because i don't have one. >> he inserted his time in vietnam, and he couldn't believe the police would be telling him
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how fast to drive his boat or how low to fly his airplane, or how many wild animals he could have. >> it was actually very bizarre to be up close to more wild animals than you could go to the columbus zoo and see. >> despite the doubling findings of the inspection, the sheriff's department was powerless to enforce changes or bring charges. 15 minutes after the first emergency call, the sheriff's department was in the dark about how many animals were loose or how they got out. for deputies arriving on the scene, perhaps the answer lay inside the property. >> somebody had to get out there and try to find out what was going on. i left the gate, drove up the road, it was that way, then goes to the right.
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>> when i got close to the house, there were just animals just all around. there were tigers, there were bears, there were lions. i mean, just everywhere. i could see the doors on the cages were open. this can't be happening.
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>> all units, all units, everything has gotten out. >> terry thompson got bears and lions out, now it's all snowballed into hell. >> for me, i knew we had a serious issue, because if these animals were out, they were out of control, because all terry had to control them were the pens. >> all his animals, to my knowledge, are inside this large fence, however, the large fence i'm calling large is a four-foot exterior fence, which for a tiger is nothing. >> i told my partners, we have got to call the wild. >> hi, this is dr. wolf from the wild. >> with a potential 56 animals now free, officers turn to vets from the local zoo for advice and counseling. >> i'm sure you're familiar with terry thompson's animals? >> yes. >> i need someone with a tranquilizer gun. >> oh, man. >> wow, you know, this is always a possibility, but who would think this would actually happen? >> hold on.
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terry thompson's animals are loose right now. all of terry thompson's animals are loose. >> really, all of them? >> we're going to send guns down there. >> we all just started to move. as i was driving to zanesville, i was thinking about the fact that we trained for emergency situations in zoos all the time, but when we train for these situations, we're usually thinking about one animal in a really extreme situation, maybe two, three, or four. but i had never considered what it would be like to try to contain 30, 40, 50 animals. >> this is the thompson property. you can see that it's approximately 300 yards from the interstate. it's very close proximity to town. here is the farm, and here is the closest school, which is two miles. >> the vets' journey to zanesville would take an hour. facing an immediate public
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safety emergency, the sheriff made a decision. >> on the way to the scene, i made it clear to the guys on the scene that if there were any animals outside the pasture field or looking like they were going out of the fence, they were to be put down. >> put the word out, if it's close to the fence or looks like it's coming over, i don't want it out. >> i searched the house. i didn't find terry. well, nothing else we can do up here. i started down the drive, and a little ways from the house were some of the animal cages, and there was what i assumed to be a dead body down in front of the cages.
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he was lying on his back, and to his left there was some kind of an object, which i couldn't tell for sure, but it looked like a pistol. i had to assume that it was terry thompson. >> we have located the owner, code 16, here in the field. >> i can remember feeling holy hell. up to that point, we could always rely on terry to help us get the animals contained, but at that point's when i thought this is really, really bad, because we're on our own now.
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the vets were still many miles away from the thompson farm, where dozens of animals were still on the loose. meanwhile, terry thompson's body lay in the open. the sheriff called for backup closer to home.
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>> as soon as i got the call that night, i came home immediately and got dressed and headed out to my car so i could respond to the scene. we keep all of our gear in our cars, and i know where my weapon's system is, and as soon as you open up my trunk, this is what you see. this is a remington 700308. has a loophole scope on it, this is our weapon of choice as a sniper for the special response team. >> this is a millimeter. this weapon has a single burst. but also has a three-round burst. and also a full auto. all those were used that night at this incident. this is the ar-15.
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this weapon was not designed specifically for tigers, but on that night, it was designated for it. >> it's still complete chaos out there. we've got officers going in heavily armed. >> we have a crew of four going in to check on the owner of the property. >> if the special response team could reach thompson's body, then maybe they could determine what had happened to him and how this dangerous horde of pets got loose. at the time of the emergency, terry and marian owned 17 lions, 18 tigers, eight bears, three mountain lions, two wolves, and three leopards. in all, 51 major carnivores.
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>> the last three years, it just became too overwhelming, i think, financially and physically for them. the cages weren't being cleaned. the cages weren't being repaired. gates were being broke and the latches weren't being fixed. >> he was a hoarder of animals. not just animals, but for the animals, there were vehicles. he was a hoarder of vehicles. that's one of the things that contributed to his being quite an eccentric fella, the hoarding of things. it got even more troublesome when it was the hoarding of wild and dangerous animals. >> all units, there's a crew of four in a brown truck headed inside the property, inside the property.
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>> you could hear the roars and growls. if anybody up there says that they weren't scared, they are acting macho. >> at that time, the sheriff had said if we were able to contain the animals, that's what we wanted to do. if anything approaches the fence, shoot to kill. i could see lions, bears, and tigers, and they were all coming towards the fence. >> the special response team shot and killed animals near the perimeter, while slowly working their way into the property to recover thompson's body. >> we could see terry thompson laying there.
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he was laying flat on his back, and his jeans pulled all the way down to his ankles. but we couldn't get to him. there was a tiger hovered over terry, and he was -- he had his mouth around terry, around his head. there was several bite marks. through our scopes, i could see a bare of blue bolt cutters. had no idea at that point what those were used for. >> unable to approach the body until they had full control of the animals, the deputies turned their attention to the open cages. >> we could see at least two or three lionesses that were inside. >> we did not want to harm those animals that, obviously, for some reason were still inside these cages. >> so as we're looking through our scopes and scanning for these lions, drake would come up
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on my side, reach into the door and attempt to shut the door and latch lock it. so we did this through several doors successively. at this point we're thinking, okay, any animals that were in there, we have safely secured them, they can't get out. we've saved some animals' lives. >> and at that time we encountered something that i guarantee i'll never forget as long as i live. >> i look over and maybe three feet away from where the door is, there's a large hole that's cut in the chain link fence. as soon as i saw that, i saw the blue bolt lock cutters that were laying beside terry thompson. >> i got immediately angry. i was very upset at that point, because i knew that there was some type of either premeditated means for the animals to get out or a setup to have someone injured from this act.
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>> all of a sudden this lioness starts going right at us. she's not running, but she's pouncing. i can see her paws hit the ground and she's just pouncing and her shoulder blades pop up out of her back, and she gets all the way to the chain link, and as soon as she gets there, we just start unloading rounds. >> i can remember shell casings hitting off my head. >> this lion's three feet away. i'm putting as many rounds as i can until the lion is completely motionless. we realize we can't secure these cages. all the animals we took the time to secure these doors, they are not secured. >> they called again to say that the cages had been cut open, the chain link was destroyed, and there was no way to contain the animals, even if they were able to coax them back into the cages. at that point, it was very clear that there was really no recourse, but i had to give the advice to shoot to kill the
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animals, because the situation was too dangerous for both the sheriff's department and the public surrounding in zanesville. >> anything that's not contained is to be put down. and that's to say it nicely, but we knew that we were going to shoot and kill these animals. introducing metris, the mid-size van from mercedes-benz. it's got small-ability and big-ability. towing-ability and stowing-ability. rack-ability and hvac-ability. it's fully customizable and sized just right to give you cupcake-ability, entourage-ability... ...garage-ability and even afford-ability. starting at $28,950. available in cargo or passenger.
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authorities in memphis are working to find a motive hyped an off-duty officer's killing. 31-year-old terence alridge was gunned down. a suspect is in custody. thousands are gathered for one of the 95 victims of yesterday's peace terror rally -- terror attack, rather, in the capital of turkey. mourners read the names of each victim.
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many in the crowd denounced their government claiming no precautions were taken to prevent the attack. no one has claimed responsibility for twin bombs. back to our msnbc special. one of the formations that we used on the thompson farm the night of the incident was called a diamond formation. if a threat would come up to our left, for instance, we could say tiger left, tiger left, and the whole team could shift its position. >> tiger, tiger, tiger. tiger down on me. tiger left, tiger left. >> when the shooting started, it just sounded like multiple fireworks display, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, constantly.
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>> it was mind boggling, just constant gunfire. it sounded like i was talking to somebody in afghanistan. >> the tigers were by far the most resilient. i remember a couple of them would do somersaults when they hit. a lot of the lions when you hit them, they'd just drop to the ground, and maybe a little movement, but these tigers would do somersaults, seemed one, two somersaults and they would cover 30, 40 feet. >> outside the farm, other officers guarded the perimeter, with orders to shoot to kill any animals that got past the fence line. >> all the animals i shot were outside the thompson property. they were on their way to who knows where and to who knows what, you know, what family could have possibly encountered these. >> more than half of those
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animals have been killed. >> that night, as the zanesville story went national, public support for the sheriff's department quickly went south. >> well, right now, we're shooting to kill. >> you've reached the sheriff's officer. >> yes, i'd like to leave a message for your sheriff lutz please. ask him if he's ever heard of a hot damn tranquilizer gun. >> hate calls, that's what we called them, hate calls. >> may i help you? >> stop shooting animals, you guys are outrageous! >> you're panicking on national tv. >> we couldn't do anything on that phone, all three all night long, we'd hang it up and it would be lit again from people around the world wanting to wish ill will. >> sir, i'm not going to debate this issue with you, i'm not going to do it. >> well i'm going to make a bill for that. >> shooting animals! you [ bleep ].
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>> it was just accusations that we were having fun killing these animals. we weren't having fun. it was a professional police operation. >> it was in the back of my mind all the time, how were people going to portray me, you know, i don't want to be portrayed as some kind of monster, you know, animal killer. >> at one point, i was called up to deal with a big bear. i can remember aiming at that bear's head -- and pulling the trigger.
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and just dropping it. you know, and then we moved on to the next one. >> by 8:00 p.m., the police had already killed dozens of thompson's animals, with many large cats and bears still on the loose, detectives approached thompson's body to do their forensics. >> the sheriff told me to take charge of the investigation of the body.
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here's terry lying away from the path. we could see a drag mark in the grass where a cat or cats had drug terry away from the bloodstain. there was a head wound, a head gunshot wound. his hands were filled with gun powder residue. those factors combined leads us to believe that this is a suicide. >> in the three years prior to the incident, terry's life had spiralled out of control. the u.s. bureau of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms conducted an investigation into terry's
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gun collection, finding five machine guns and two shotguns that terry had no license for. they quickly brought charges. >> he told me, he said, i'm being devastated, they beat me. i have nothing left to fight with, he said, i'm done. that was what he told me, before he left. >> terry thompson was convicted and served ten months in a federal prison for possession of unregistered firearms. >> terry was afraid of being locked up, confined, because he was such a free spirit that did exactly everything he wanted to do. >> while terry was in prison, the heavy burden of caring for the farm and the animals fell on mary.
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>> the farm was in pretty bad shape. marian couldn't do anymore. less of her every time i saw her. she couldn't have weighed 85 pounds at one point, just working herself to death. >> i think terry's downfall is that when he returned from prison, marian was not at the farm waiting for him. >> something had to break. that's why marian left, not because she truly didn't love him anymore, she just couldn't take it anymore. >> after 34 years of marriage, terry's wife was no longer by his side. >> i don't think terry was one to cry on anybody's shoulder and break down at all. tough guy. you don't show that weakness. >> a few days later i saw him, he was laughing and joking and we were having a good
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conversation. i was just kidding around, i thought, well, he's coming back. i think it's just when he made up his mind what he was going to do. >> after he cut the cages, terry went to where the cats were. his pants and underwear were pulled down, and his shirts were pulled up. >> he had been eaten? >> he had been eaten. >> what do you mean? >> well, i think i can answer that best by saying that in the wild, animals frequently eat the softest tissue first on something that they've killed, and, of course, the softer tissue would be the private parts of both males and females. i do know that his pants were
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unbuttoned and unzipped. that leads me to believe he quite possibly, more than likely, partially disrobed himself, probably knowing that the cats would eat him. >> he wanted the animals to eat him. he said, i want to be recycled, he said, i'm going to be recycled. that's what he said. i didn't doubt it, but i sure didn't want him to do it. >> six and a half hours after the first sighting, the guns fell silent on the thompson farm. >> we were still unsure of how many animals were out there, but we didn't see anything moving around, so we made that our stopping point. >> to determine how many creatures were still loose, officers started counting bodies. >> we put them all in one spot, we'll know exactly what we're up against in the morning.
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we used a rope like a noose, and we would tie it around one of their legs, and we would just slide them up the hill. all in one area, all in the proper species. some people passed judgment that it was like a trophy case. there was no trophy. it just made sense. >> the gruesome body count continued into the next morning. >> based on what they recovered, they had an idea of what might still be out there. >> we got to the point where we had one tiger left. >> i said, i'm going to go up and see if we can get somebody with a tranquilizer. if we can save one of these animals, we're going to. look at us back in school!
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one of the officers came up one of the officers came up and said that they heard a tiger in the woods down the hill from the house. my first reaction to that when he said tiger, i said this is worth it. maybe we can get this tiger. we calculated an estimated dose based on what we thought this tiger weighed, and i took one gun and two darts with me and four of the officers. as i approached it, it didn't really occur to me that i was getting closer and closer until i saw very clearly that he was about 15 feet in front of me. >> i'm probably 25 yards from it, and i'm not comfortable where i'm at. >> i had to still push a little bit further into the dense brush
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until i could see an opening. >> she's definitely got bigger kahunas than i do. >> then i was worried that the sound of the gun would startle him, so i was quiet in taking off my safety and everything else, and once i saw him -- >> i could see the side on this tiger just twitch, so i'm thinking, yeah, you know, she hit it. >> i thought for a minute we're going to be okay, this is going to work. >> within a second of being completely docile, this tiger just started thrashing the most horrific noises i've ever heard in my life. >> the most god awful growl, roar, comes out of this thing, and it just leaps. >> you could just see the whole area moving, all the brush just moving all at once and you knew this tiger was about to come out. >> i could see he was moving. i backed out as quickly as i could and went the other
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direction. >> the tiger went straight at her. >> then the gunshots just rang. >> there are 48 animals that we had to put down. those animals included one wolf, six black bears, two grizzly bears, nine male lions, eight lionesses, one baboon, three mountain lions. and 18 tigers. >> 16 tragic hours after the first 911 call, what became known as the zanesville animal massacre was finally over. fortunately, no members of the public had been harmed by any of the animals. the harm to the animals, however, was devastating. that night, police killed the equivalent of 1% of india's wild tiger population.
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>> there's been stories out that, you know, the zanesville animal massacre, and i guess when i first seen that headline, it kind of pissed me off, that they would headline it like that. but the more i thought about it, it's pretty much what it was. >> just six of terry's animals were recovered unharmed, still secure in their cages. three leopards, two monkeys, and a brown bear. over the next few days, the
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zanesville animal massacre dominated the headlines in america, with one question on every reporter's mind. >> is there any understanding as to why he let all of these dangerous animals out before he took his own life? >> you know, maybe in terry's mind he thought this was the last way to get back at the government. another way to look at this might be that terry looked at the animals as kids, a product that he and marian's relationship, and perhaps when he knew he didn't have marian anymore, he thought i'd kill the kids to get back at marian. but there had to be a reason in terry's mind to do what he did. we just don't know which reason it was. >> stay.
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>> i think i've got past it, but, you know, some of those memories out there were nothing that i ever want to remember again. the sheriff told any of us if we wanted to talk to somebody, it was there, and i know it would be. i think that i can probably just deal with it myself. or i guess just hope that i can deal with it myself.
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who have the curiosity to look beyond the expected and the conviction to be in it for the long term. oppenheimerfunds believes that's the right way to invest... ...in this big, bold, beautiful world. >> what disturbed me the most was the baiting of the animal. and just as he was about to take a bite, shots start going off. and it's not just one shot. [ gun fire ]

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